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Matchmaker Links NH Small Businesses to Government Contracts

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Small business owners from across New Hampshire will have the opportunity to meet one-on-one in two weeks with large government contractors, which, even at a time of budget cutbacks, still need goods and services provided to them.

The 2014 New Hampshire Small Business Matchmaker will run from 8:30 am to 4 pm, March 13, and is hosted by Rivier University in Nashua, with contributing support from BAE Systems, which is also an exhibitor. Over 30 prime contractors are expected, including the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the New Hampshire National Guard and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

“For businesses that have products and services the government needs and wants, it is always a good time to pursue a contract,” said David Pease, program manager for the New Hampshire Procurement Technical Assistance Program. “It is a particularly good time now if you have a product or service that can save money, while meeting an established need.”

Government purchasing is a $2 billion market in the state and the NH-PTAP assists about 900 companies, of all sizes, doing business with the government and agencies that are prime contractors for government.

“Matchmakers are very important to us,” said Susan King, the executive administrator of supplier diversity for BAE Systems, Electronic Systems, headquartered in Nashua, which sponsors more than 25 small business events around the country and spends about $400 million buying goods and services from small businesses. “It lets us meet face-to-face with small businesses and to talk with them about what they offer.”

The New Hampshire Small Business Matchmaker is the only one scheduled this year and Pease said it is a rare opportunity for businesses to meet with decision makers in one place, rather than spend time trying to connect with the right person. Government agencies need to purchase the same kinds of goods and services as private businesses do, Pease said. With its own set of goals, statutes and procedures that must be followed, government procurement can be an intimidating process to those who are new to it.

In addition to meeting with the prime contractors, businesses attending can network with others, meet with and get advice from a business mentor and attend information sessions.

Those interested in attending can register online at www.NHSBDC.org. The cost is $50 and includes lunch. For more information, call Heidi Edwards Dunn at the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center at 603-271-0417.

The 2014 Matchmaker is sponsored by NH-PTAP, the New Hampshire Small Business Development Center, the US Small Business Administration, SCORE and the Center for Women’s Business Advancement and hosted by Rivier University.

 Lorna Colquhoun

Communications Director

NH Division of Economic Development




SBA Introduces New Mobile Application for Entrepreneurs

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Smart phone users interested in starting or growing a small business can now find helpful resources at their fingertips via a new SBA mobile application from the U.S. Small Business Administration.  

mobile-devices“Increasingly, smart phones are the vehicle through which Americans access information.  This is certainly true of many entrepreneurs and small business owners and this new application ensures they will have access to SBA’s resources and programs – literally at their fingertips,” said SBA Administrator Karen G. Mills.  “Greater mobility fits with the new user-focused SBA.gov launched recently, and is another example of the steps we are taking to do a better job of connecting entrepreneurs and small business owners with the tools to help them start or grow their businesses and create jobs.” 

Developed and donated as a gift by Palo Alto Software, Inc., the SBA mobile app will make the search for extensive resources more efficient, whether users are starting a new business or taking an existing business to a new level.  The app will first be available for the Apple iPhone®, with future versions for other smart phone platforms. 

“Palo Alto Software’s mission is to help small businesses succeed.  We’ve developed this mobile application for the SBA because we understand the importance of having the right tools and resources when starting or growing a business,” said Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software.  “Ideas can strike entrepreneurs at any moment, and having useful resources available through mobile devices could be the impetus that begins the next big company.” 

The mobile app will help users connect with SBA district office staff and SBA-affiliated counselors and mentors who can provide free, personalized small business assistance.  The user-friendly format of the app will help answer questions such as: How do I start a business? Where can I go in my area to get free help with writing a business plan? And where do I begin finding funding for my business? 

The SBA mobile app also features a built-in startup cost calculator to help estimate the costs associated with getting a business off the ground, plus an SBA partner locator to help users find SBA offices, Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers and SCORE.  

Users will also have mobile access to SBA video content and social media alerts to provide them with tips on the go.  This will include live updates from the SBA’s YouTube channel and from SBA’s Twitter feeds.  The free mobile app can be downloaded from the SBA’s website at www.sba.gov/content/sba-mobile-app.

Ask CJ: Focus Your Marketing Plan on Your Customers

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Q: I am looking at increasing our marketing efforts and need some guidance on where I should invest our marketing dollars. Should I focus on social media?”

A: Marketing is such an important part of the success of a businesses, and it is a topic that is quite expansive. I will try to be brief, but at least touch upon the key elements of a marketing plan that you should be thinking about.

For in-depth free assistance, I would recommend that you spend some time visiting the NH Small Business Development Center at www.nhsbdc.org. It has some great online classes that cover this topic. Your local SCORE counselor, www.scorehelp.org, can also be of assistance.

NH Business Resource Center Seacoast Business Services Specialist Christine Davis

NH Business Resource Center Seacoast Business Services Specialist Christine Davis

There are many ways a business can market itself from traditional print media, to radio, to television, to the increasingly popular social media. There is no one formula that will work for everyone. Just as your business is unique, so should be your marketing plan.

There are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself to help guide your decisions: First, what is my budget? As much as it would be great to have a commercial during the Super Bowl or “American Idol,” you may not have the funds for it. Second, who is your target market? If you can pinpoint your customers and understand what they want, you can begin to create advertising that will resonate with them.

I recently attended an event with the Center for Family Business at the University of New Hampshire. The guest speaker runs a successful gardening center and spent some time talking about his marketing strategy. First he talked about knowing who they were, in other words, branding. What type of product does the company sell? High-quality garden products. Who is the target customer? Women. His next task was to figure out what women want. (Yes, I did laugh out loud when he said that. Good luck, my friend. We don’t even know what we want).

Once these questions were answered, there was another aspect of the company’s marketing plan that I want to share. Are you looking for new customers or are you trying to recapture customers that have drifted for one reason or another? That can affect where you place those well-crafted messages. They didn’t need to persuade gardeners to garden, so instead of placing ads in a gardening magazine, the company’s advertising materials are being placed in other print media that is predominantly read by women, the target market. Again, the answer for you will vary depending on your business, but the questions are pretty universal.

When it comes to content, invest the time to create something memorable. We are inundated with all sorts of media, so an advertisement with impact is critically important. I am amazed when I watch yet another TV commercial that lacks creativity or content. Who is getting paid to write this stuff? I have to admit that there is a TV commercial for toilet paper that I can’t forget as much as I try. One of the lines in the commercial is, “It’s time to get serious about what happens in the bathroom.” As much as that tactic initially horrified me, I must admit that I haven’t forgotten the ad, and I certainly can’t say that about the vast majority of commercials I see on television. You have a very short window of opportunity to make an impression, so don’t waste it.

Like every aspect of your business the marketing plan requires just that, a plan. Throwing out generic ads in every direction at every individual isn’t a good plan. Focusing all of your energy on social media just because the guy next to you is doing it isn’t a good plan, either. A good marketing plan revolves around your customers. Who are they, where are they and what do they want? Answer those questions first and craft a message that speaks to them. Deliver that message frequently via the media that they use. Everyone needs to market their business, and today we have so many options and price points that I just don’t believe someone can say that they can’t afford it. If you lack the big corporate budget, you just need to tap into your creativity. At the very least, get out in your community and get involved. Grassroots networking is still a great way to get your name out there.

Christine J. Davis works for the N.H. Division of Economic Development as a resource specialist serving businesses in Rockingham and Strafford counties. Her role is to provide the support needed for businesses so that they may remain viable and growing entities in the community. She lives in Exeter with her two daughters. She likes to spend time outdoors to discover new places and activities in the community with her girls. She can be reached at Christine.davis@dred.state.nh.us.

Ask CJ: Hanging Out the “Help Wanted” Sign

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Q: I am a sole proprietor and my business has grown so much that I think I need to hire one or more employees.  How do I do that and are there any resources to assist me?

NH Business Resource Center Seacoast Business Services Specialist Christine J. Davis

NH Business Resource Center Seacoast Business Services Specialist Christine J. Davis

A: Congratulations on growing your business!  Hiring your first employee is a big step and there are a few hoops you will need to jump through and important things to consider before you hang out the “help wanted” sign.

I did a bit of digging on the Internet and the good news is that there are a bunch of free resources available to educate you on what you need to know when hiring employees.  I visited a couple of sites that were full of information about hiring as well as other business issues.  The Small Business Administration, www.sba.gov, is a great tool for business owners looking for information.  They listed “10 Steps to Hiring Your First Employee”:

1. Obtain an Employer Identification Number (EIN) if you don’t have one already.
2. Set up records for withholding taxes-you can have an accountant work with you on this if desired.
3. Employee Eligibility Verification (Form I-9)-this does not need to be filed with the federal govt. but does need to be kept on file.
4. Register with the State’s New Hire Reporting Program.
5. Obtain Worker’s Compensation Insurance.
6. Unemployment Insurance Tax Registration-some exclusions may apply.
7. Obtain Disability Insurance-NOT required in New Hampshire.
8. Post required notices (finally, something easy to do!)  Here is a link to the notices required by the federal and NH government:   www.labor.state.nh.us/wage_hour_mandatory_posters.asp?ptype=
9. File Your Taxes-Can be done monthly or quarterly.
10. Get organized and keep yourself informed.

help-wantedSo those are some of the “hoops” that need to be dealt with.  What about the other issues such as how do I advertise for the position, what questions do I ask during the interview, should I do a background check, do I need to offer benefits and can I hire an independent contractor instead of a regular employee?  These are some pretty important questions too and are not to be taken lightly.  I will touch upon these a bit, but you can get more in-depth information from the Small Business Development Center’s Web site, www.nhsbdc.org.  If you are not yet familiar with the SBDC or SCORE, you should spend some time on their Web sites and take advantage of their free business counseling and low cost seminars.

Before you put out an advertisement, you should have a job description ready that clearly describes the position including:  job objective, scope of position, duties, responsibilities and necessary qualifications.  Be prepared to receive a number of applications that don’t fit the description, however, as there are still a lot of people looking for work.  It is good to be a bit flexible but you want to be sure the candidate has the tools and education to fulfill their role.  There are a number of ways to find candidates from using a temp agency, to the State’s Employment Security office, to traditional newspapers and online.  The type of position will also be a factor in which avenue you choose.   The job description also determines if the position should be classified as hourly (non-exempt) or salary (exempt). Many employers are under the false assumption they can make this determination because it is more cost effective for example, to pay someone a salary rather than have to pay them overtime. Actually the federal government’s Fair Labor Standards Act outlines which positions are eligible to receive salary/exempt status as determined by the job duties the individual will perform. Employers can receive hefty fines for misclassification.

Though not legally required, consider offering some benefits for your employee(s).  Many small businesses are unable to afford health insurance but if you can offer it you will be able to attract more candidates.  Other things to consider are holidays, vacation and sick time as well as whether or not you are open to (and the job is conducive to) having your employee work from home.  Again, so much is industry specific so there isn’t a one size fits all answer to these questions.  Some businesses hire Professional Employer Organizations or professional Human Resource firms to handle these issues for them.  These groups can assist with the intricacies of HR and take responsibility off of your plate so you can focus on your business (Wouldn’t that be nice!).

Some businesses may be best served by hiring an independent contractor versus a traditional employee.   A business benefits by using an independent contractor with savings in labor, reduced liability and more flexibility in hiring and firing (source:  www.SBA.gov).  However, there are distinct differences between the two and a misclassification could be costly.  A few of the descriptive for an independent contractor are:

• Operates under a business name
• May have their own employees
• Invoices for work done and keeps records
• May have multiple clients

This is not an exhaustive list, so please do some research if you are contemplating going down this road and know that different government entities such as the IRS and the NH Department of Labor, have differing “tests” to determine whether the individual is eligible to be an independent contractor.   Another good site to visit to learn more about hiring issues and concerns is www.business.gov.  I have hired both employees and independent contractors in the past and always checked with a professional before offering employment.

There are lots of hoops to jump through and much to consider before you hire that first employee.  I also recommend that you spend a good deal of time talking with that person and making sure they are a good fit for your organization.  You can have a seemingly perfect fit on paper but a personality clash that just won’t work.  Don’t forget to check references and perhaps even conduct a background check.  That’s so important to the decision making process as well. 

If you do your due diligence, you are quite likely to bring on a person that will help you grow your business.  There aren’t any guarantees but I do believe that the better you educate and prepare yourself, the more likely you will be successful.

Special thanks to Delise West of Human Resource Partners in Dover, NH for her contributions to this article, www.h-rpartners.com

Whether you have been in business for 20 years or just getting started, we have the resources and the expertise to answer your questions. You can e-mail me at Christine.Davis@dred.state.nh.us. I look forward to hearing from you.

Exploring Government Contracting Subject of Small Business Roundtables

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

In FY 2010 New Hampshire small businesses were awarded over $438 million in contracts by federal agencies, state agencies and as subcontractors to prime contractors.  These contracts represent awards to hundreds of small businesses in New Hampshire, who have often worked with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and the NH Division of Economic Development’s Procurement Technical Assistance Program (NH PTAP) to realize increasing success and profits.  

small_business1As more small business have entered the arena of selling their goods or services to government agencies or prime contractors, a common thread has emerged with successful companies.  The businesses that understand how the process works and how regulatory requirements can be met, are the same businesses who receive contracts in the government contracting marketplace.   

On Wednesday March 9, 2011, in Manchester and Thursday March 17th in Keene, representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the NH Procurement Technical Assistance Program (PTAP), and SCORE will host a roundtable discussion with area businesses who want to learn more about the process of selling product and services to federal government agencies and their large business prime contractors.  Business owners will also receive an introduction to the resources and services provided by the SBA, NH PTAP and SCORE to assist them if they decide to pursue government contracting with their companies. 

Wednesday March 9, 2011 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, 54 Hanover Street, Manchester, NH


Thursday March 17, 2011 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
The Hannah Grimes Center, 25 Roxbury Street, Keene, NH

Each session is free of charge, but attendance is limited and pre-registration is required.

Please contact Rachael Roderick at (603) 225-1603 or Rachael.roderick@sba.gov for additional information or to register.

SBA Announces Grant Funding to Increase Contracting Opportunities for Small Businesses

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

The U.S. Small Business Administration is accepting grant funding proposals from eligible and well-established national organizations interested in providing training, guidance, counseling, mentoring and procurement assistance to small businesses in teaming arrangements, which may be in the form of a joint venture or prime and subcontractor relationship, under its new Small Business Teaming Pilot program. 

business-teamThe Small Business Teaming Pilot program was established by Congress under the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010.  Under this new program, the SBA expects to make 10-to-20 grant awards in the range of $250,000-$500,000 totaling up to $5,000,000 for fiscal year 2011.   

“The Small Business Jobs Act provides critical resources to help small businesses continue to drive economic recovery and create jobs,” said SBA Administrator Karen Mills.  “The teaming pilot program will help put contract dollars into the hands of small businesses, create job opportunities through the teaming arrangements, help drive innovation and promote economic growth for our nation’s economy.” 

To be eligible for these grant awards, an applicant must:

*be a private, non-profit or for-profit entity;
*have been in existence continually for the past three years;
*have experience dealing with issues relating to small business on a national level; and
*demonstrate that it has the capacity to provide assistance to small businesses.

Applicant organizations selected for these awards must leverage the funding received by the SBA by working in conjunction with SBA’s district offices and other federal, state, local and tribal government small business development programs, including: Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, SBA resource partners such as SCORE, Small Business Development Centers, Women’s Business Centers, Veterans Business Outreach Centers, 7(j) technical assistance providers, universities, other institutions of higher education and private organizations such as chambers of commerce and trade and industry groups and associations.   

All proposals must be submitted electronically via the government-wide financial assistance portal www.grants.gov no later than 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 25, 2011.  For more information about the Small Business Teaming Pilot Program, visit: www.sba.gov/teaming.